Saturday 4 February 2012

From one expat to another

My friends husband is in hospital and I'm thousands of miles away.

Skype, mobiles, World Call cards, emails, facebook and twitter have made such a difference for expats living abroad, it makes the world feel smaller, but in reality it just highlights how far away you are from family and friends in times of need.

If you've read my blog or followed me on twitter, you'll know that despite the help we were offered to relocate our family to South Africa that the help never actually materilised. One year on there is a chance we have to move house. No big problem is it really? and I was going to blog about it anyway, but since recieving the news from my friend this morning, there has been many (selfish) mixed thoughts and emotions.

8 days into our arrival in South Africa, we got the call all parents dread, not the first time, but when a call starts with 'there's no need to panic, the paramedics are here' you panic. We were alone, a few parents, a teacher and some of sons mates turned up at the hospital before we got there, but all sorts ran through my mind when the ambulance called on route to the hospital and requested permission to carry out a tracheotomy.

We'd been in the country 8 weeks, I spent the night with a mobile phone on 3G that kept switching itself on and off, using the message system on facebook to rely on updates from my 16yo niece for information on my sister who was in labour and things had got complicated. We had no phone in the apartment, we'd asked for one to be put in, but as the apartment was rented in the company name we had no proof of residency so couldn't get one installed for ourselves. I then spent the following day back and forth to the phone box on the corner, cutting calls short when the lightening and rain came.

Since then there has been a broken arm, a child in the UK rushed into hospital (cause still unknown) a death in the family.

So not really different from many other people is it? and for everyone else a few words are exchanged and life carries on.

This morning I've taken son to school for his cricket match, sorted out the washing, the ants in the dishwasher, drank tea and had a smoke or two. And while I carry on with my normal day, my friend's is suspended. If I was in the UK I would've driven to the hospital at 1am, she knows I would. But I'm here and a 12 hour flight away.

So again what's different from everyone else?

We are both expats, I'm in country far away from family and friends and so is she, in a foreign country away from her family.

It takes a long time to build a support network, you sort of just assume it happens, but it doesn't. We all have people that can pick our kids up from school, rally around with cups of tea, provide a glass of wine and a shoulder to cry on. But when you're in a foreign country it's not quite the same as just moving to a new town, where your family and old friends are just a few hours away, where you can pick up the phone and speak freely (it's not the cost, it's the bloody reception and sometimes it just doesn't work here).

So back to moving house, my first thought was 'in the grand scheme of things' it's not that bad, so what we can move, we don't have to pay for the move, I'm not working it's not really a big deal. But...

...actually it is a big deal, I've spent a year building a support network, lift shares, friends, people to share a worry and a glass of wine with, people who send an sms and ask if everything is OK, who offer to help if needed.

I can't give that all up, I won't. Moving to another estate is NOT an option, my network will go, I won't be able to just turn up at a friends house to set the world to rights. I'll need to be booked into the estate, I won't be able to wander in as my finger print will be deactivated and I'll have to start my network from scratch again.

There's a new movie out with George Clooney (swoon) called The Descendants. The trailer on DSTV is 'just because with live in paradise, doesn't mean to say we don't have the same problems to deal with' I guess that's true and as we've found out, life isn't greener on the other side, same shit, different day, different country, and 24 hours and cost of journey for us to be there for you, or you to be there for us.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. My dad is poorly in the uk and it has hit me hard that we are no longer just up the road. Since we have been here we have had 4 deaths - and trying to get back quickly is difficult and very costly - also having major surgery last year also made me realise how much I missed having family
    And friends around me. Being in another country can be very lonely

  2. Sometimes the world isn't as small as everyone says. :( So sorry you've the worry of moving after its taken so long to settle and watching Cs timeline praying for them. I know you'll be pacing, worried. Sending a hug xx

  3. Suzanne, my heart goes out to you. Times like this are so hard, and just because they may be hard for other people doesn't lessen the emotional impact that you feel about the prospect of more change and upheaval. But having these feelings makes you who you are - a very special human being. Sending big hugs x

  4. Oh gosh, reading this makes me want to cry. You've put in to words how I feel. It's so hard when you're far away from everything that is familiar, particularly when there are events that you need support with or to be back at home for. I hope that you don't have to move. Rachel.

    1. you'll be pleased to hear, we've stayed put, but will have to move in december or pay the difference in the rent

  5. So true what you say. When I think back to the places we've lived, I always think back with nostalgia and why we didn't take more advantage of living in such beautiful spots, but the reality is, daily life catches up with you everywhere, and it is often rather dull and repetitive or agonizing, just like everybody's lives are. You can't escape from that, no matter where you live. But I do think when you are an expat in several different places that you do become better at seizing the moment and doing fun things, because you know it'll end all too soon. We've seen and done more in South Africa than in any of the other places we've ever lived.